Ahead of every India-Pakistan cricket match, the media tries to convince us that it’s the end of the world.
Advertising campaigns like “mauka mauka” and replays of previous matches are played on loop. The old stories are dusted and brought out of the closet. Phrases such as ‘it’s not cricket, it is war!’ are used by newspapers, frequently.
And yet, deep within, the viewer knows. The viewer knows that today, India-Pakistan matches are as interesting as picking your nose while watching paint dry. The last four matches with Pakistan have been tragic, one-sided encounters, where even bookies must have set their alarm clocks and gone to sleep.
India-Pakistan cricket matches used to be about grit and glory. They used to keep us up at night, and give us dreams and nightmares. They used to be evenly poised – the might of batsmen on one side against the guile of bowlers on the other. The swords of Sachin, Sidhu and Azharuddin, against the grenades of Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib. The matches were unpredictable, and there was the thrill of watching a player turn the match around single-handedly. The spectators gave standing ovations to the winner, while the players laughed and shook hands after gruelling encounters.
What made the Pakistan cricket team such a watchable one, back then, was their unpredictability. They never played as a team, but had individual stars who could shine on their day.
These days, India-Pakistan matches offer no twists and turns. They simply march forward in a straight line. Their batsmen claw at deliveries like they’re late for an important appointment. Their bowlers have the discipline of rabbits on cocaine, their fielders act like the ball is made of lava. And instead of the exhilaration that I was supposed to feel, I am filled with a sombre sadness.
India on the other hand, is a cricketing superpower. The Principal’s son, who can schedule tournaments at will, deciding when and where to play cricket around the world. They have the biggest budgets, the best equipment, a board that loves to pamper and spoil its wards.
It shouldn’t be called a ‘match’, as Pakistan is sadly no match to the Indian team of today.
But to understand the plight of the Pakistan cricket team, we need to zoom out to look at the larger picture.
Pakistan’s economy has been paying the stiff price for extremist terrorism. Statistics reveal that like our cricket, the economies of India and Pakistan were head-to-head when it came to economic growth rates. We both had our bad years – India had the Emergency, Pakistan had military regimes grabbing power – and yet, it could be called an even match.
However, post the mid-2000s, the Indian economy has surged ahead. Look up any barometer of economic growth – FDI, exports, or Human Development Index – and Pakistan lags behind. Tourism, touted to be Pakistan’s ‘next big thing’, came crashing down after it was discovered that Osama bin Laden liked to hang out in the country. Pakistan faces a severe brain-drain of its youth, who choose greener pastures over their own green, choppy waters.
But perhaps the final nail in the coffin was hammered in on 3 March 2009.
After a number of international teams refused to tour Pakistan, Sri Lanka agreed to play three ODIs and three Tests. The first Test was a high-scoring draw, and Sri Lanka notched up a big score in the first innings of the second Test. Pakistan were going steady at 110/2 at stumps on the second day.
The team buses were ready to go to the stadium on the 3rd day, when terrorists began to shoot at the Sri Lankan team bus. Six Sri Lankan players, including their captain were injured; there was chaos in broad daylight, and the terrorists calmly walked away to a less busy street.
The incident was not only terrifying, but also extremely shady. For example, the Pakistan team bus was delayed on that day. The security forces returned no fire. Umpires and match officials were left stranded on the road as security personnel fled from the scene in fright. A few minutes this way and that, and the entire Sri Lankan team would have been lying in a pool of innocent blood.
3 March 2009 was the day Pakistan cricket died at the hands of terrorism.
No major cricketing country has ever toured Pakistan again. They play their local matches in the UAE, do not host any ICC tournaments, and haven’t played Test cricket at home with a major cricketing nation ever since.
A visiting country brings with it so much more than the scheduled matches. Board’s XI team plays against international teams. Youngsters get to meet and play with the heroes, the cricket board earns revenues from tickets and broadcasting rights. State and provincial boards get to test out their strength at the highest level.
Pakistan has had none of that.
To add to the woes of terrorism, the Pakistan cricket team has the discipline of a vaanar sena – constantly in the news for spot fixing and infighting – cricketers proclaim to have punched and kicked their teammates in the guts, their captains have thrown away matches for money. Pakistan cricket is a circus, a goldmine for stand up comedians like me looking for material.
And on the other hand, you have the Indian team.
Tournaments across the world organised almost at will by the BCCI. Fresh off ten years of the Indian Premier League – the biggest racecourse for the flashiest horses in cricket. Ten years of youngsters rubbing shoulders with legends, sharing their dressing room and picking their brains. Ten years of facing pressure under the lights, with a billion people watching.
The difference between Indian and Pakistani cricket could be seen in the final over of the match. Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain who has only played 70 ODIs all his life – gave a slow left arm spinner the final over of the match.
Hardik Pandya, who has breakfast with Kevin Pollard and dinner with Dwayne Bravo – plonked the first three balls for six.
Ironically, the same reasons make the Pakistan cricket team such an unwatchable team today – their unpredictability. They never play as a team, relying on individual stars who only shine on their day.
(Featured Image Courtesy: CBS Sports)